Even if you love revisions (like me), the thought of diving into them can be overwhelming. If you don't enjoy them, it can be downright soul crushing. Where do you start? What do you look for? How do you know when you're done?
To help make the process easier, here are my top ten tips to give you a place to start, a map to follow, and a guide to get you through your revisions.
1. Remember: It’s all about the story.
Anything goes in a first or even second draft, but once the serious revisions start, you have to be ruthless to pull the best novel you can out of your draft. A well-written scene that slows the pacing or doesn't nothing to advance the story doesn't belong, no matter how much you like it (and we've all been then). Check each scene against the core conflict, character development, or character arc and make sure it advances one of them in some way, no matter how small. If you can't bear to cut the scene, then try looking for ways to make that scene serve the story in some fashion. Sometimes all it takes it a little tweak or an added detail to get the scene back on track.
2. Try layering it.
Trying to edit the entire manuscript at once can feel like it's just too much to handle, but smaller sections are easier to manage. Try editing in layers, focusing on one thing at a time--perhaps it's chapter by chapter or scene by scene, or doing a search for all adverbs or passive verbs. Whatever you choose to check, take it a step at a time and make the process bite sized instead of too big to swallow.
3. Check your character goals and motivations.
One of the biggest reasons for a scene not working is a lack of goals, conflict, or stakes. Characters without strong goals and motivations driving the story can lead to weak stories. Make sure every character is acting with purpose, and not just doing what plot tells them to. Sometimes the fix is easy, and one line will make the goal or motivations clear, while other times you might need to figure it out yourself first.
4. Check your character and story arcs.
Novels build the story scene by scene, and if those scenes aren't moving the story, your pacing can grind to a halt. Are all the steps in the character or story arcs leading toward the exciting climax or do storylines go astray? Do characters grow or are they the same at the end as they were at the beginning? Arcs that advance and grow both story and character give the sense that the novel is progressing, which helps keeps readers interested.
5. Make sure the stakes are dire.
Stakes are vital to hold attention and keep readers wanting to know what happens next. Make sure your protagonist has a lot to lose if they don’t solve their problem.
6. Separate people.
It’s easy to switch who says what during revisions, so go back and make sure you have individual voices for all your characters, especially your main ones. If you can’t tell who is speaking by how they say it, you might want to tweak further.
7. Know your weak spots.
We all have words we like to use or things we do that we know we need to cut. Hunt down the mistakes you know are there.
8. Getting from here to there.
Bad transitions can leave a reader confused, so make sure you switch smoothly and clearly when changing scenes, locations, and POVs.
9. Bury the backstory.
Backstory creeps in on a first draft all the time, because we’re often still trying to figure it all out ourselves. Look for those sneaky bits and find a way to include the info in ways that don’t stop the story. If you can’t, cut it.
10. Don’t be afraid to cut.
A lot of unnecessary information finds its way into a story because we’re uncertain if what we mean is getting across. Trust your reader to get it, and don’t beat them over the head when it’s clear what’s going on.
How do you feel about revision? What are some of your "must do" revisions tips?
Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook.
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.
Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the upcoming Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).
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